University News

Admissions Reset
Standardized testing and spotting talent

By BAM Staff / June–August 2024
June 6th, 2024

In a reversal of pandemic policy, Brown will reinstate its requirement that applicants for first-year admission supply standardized test scores. Being test-optional “diminishes our ability to identify talented students,” said President Christina H. Paxson in a March announcement.

Illustration by Tim Cook of two students balancing on a pencil held up by a finger.
Photo: Tim Cook

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2023 decision to end race-conscious admissions policies, Paxson appointed an ad hoc committee—composed of senior faculty and alumni who are members of Brown’s governing body, the Corporation—to evaluate the equity of undergraduate admissions policies. The backdrop to the group’s work was a national conversation about the ways colleges and universities demonstrate their commitment to building classes that are diverse by many measures.

“The committee’s analysis shows test scores provide valuable information on students’ ability to succeed at Brown,” said Paxson. “Test scores offer an important piece of information among a prevalence of A grades, and for less-resourced high schools that might not offer programs and activities that allow students to distinguish themselves.”

The change will be accompanied by outreach “emphasizing that test scores are interpreted in the context of a student’s background and educational opportunities,” Paxson added. According to Associate Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admission Logan Powell, there is no minimum test score requirement and “a student with test scores that are below the Brown mean, and yet exceptional in their local context, can still be highly competitive.”

The decision to retain Brown’s early-decision (ED) admissions policy also comes at the committee’s recommendation. Such programs are binding, and there was concern that applicants might not be able to compare financial aid offers to secure the most competitive award. However, Paxson said, “I was persuaded that this does not apply to Brown. Our financial aid offers are very generous…. Brown has consistently high levels of diversity among students admitted in the ED round.”

Being test-optional “diminishes our ability to identify talented students.”

The committee has yet to reach a recommendation on applicants with family connections, in particular “legacies,” or the children of alumni. Brown
admits fewer legacies than peer institutions. “In the Class of 2027, 8 percent are legacies, and 1 to 2 percent every year are children of faculty or staff,” Paxson said. The subject “inspires deep emotions among many … as the report shows, there are valid reasons for both keeping and eliminating these preferences.” The President’s Office is inviting alumni to weigh in (see From the President).

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